What do you want for Christmas? I’m not offering to present you with your perfect present, but I will offer you a guide to some groovy Indian-inspired gift ideas – for foodies, fashionistas, and even that greedy little elf by the name of ‘yourself’.
You might think an airfare to India would be just the ticket; but since you’re staying put, howzabout checking out this cracking collection of objects guaranteed to be lengthening your shopping list – not to mention your own personal mile-long memo of must-haves.
Ahh, the Christmas wishlist. Where wants become needs, and adults become awestruck adding all and any of the glam gifts pictured in glossy guides. There’s something in the water – at this time of year (and it happens every year), you can foist anything with the ‘festive’ tag and make it alluring.
But when the glitter falls from your eyes as you unwrap the object that you thought you so lusted after on the big day, the spell cast by that cursed Christmas spirit is fast broken. This year, don’t fall foul to the canny tricks of the Christmas gift collection – delight in these Desi desirables instead…
Anyone would look pretty fly flying around town on one of these slick Punjabi Flyers, put together by a Sikh family company in India. This baby is built for rough roads, its sprung saddle and sturdy frame equally at home navigating the cratered carriageways of either India or Islington.
The frame is faithful to bucolic fifties style – covetable in Britain but commonplace across the subcontinent. And, you’ll be happy to learn, for every 10 sold, the company provides yet another to enable a schoolgirl in rural Maharashtra to continue with her education. Order it in green, ‘cause that’ll be the colour of envious passerby as the recipient breezes by.
Spice up a foodie friend’s life with a masala dhabba – a shiny silver spice tin that’s the cooks’ equivalent of a treasure chest, housing silver bowls filled with a boutique collection of precious aromatics capable of transforming any foodstuff into a feast. Spice Kitchen’s tin comes complete with 10 home-roasted, hand-ground spices and blends. You don’t even need to faff around with gift wrap – Mrs A’s rustled up a sleek silk cover for the tin to nestle in.
The word ‘curry’ may divide opinion, but few will fail to see the appeal of this glorious, garish, nifty little number; a subcontinental slant of the traditional Tala cooks’ measure. Aside from aesthetics, it’s a handy helper, the dish-specific guides printed inside the cone providing accurate measurements for everything from chapattis to pakoras, dal to perfect pilau. It comes in a matching tin, too… and , above all, just looks downright awesome.
It’s been a good year for the Parsi powerhouse, who divided 2013 between undertaking a rambunctious rampage across Britain with his buddy Tony Singh and returning to his roots in India with his beloved Pervin.
Cyrus’ Bombay blockbuster is one of the best looking books of the year thanks to Helen Cathcart’s evocative photography, and one of my most-thumbed tomes thanks to the warm company, Mumbai memories, and a stunning selection of recipes. Get into a pickle with the fine fellow, too, with Mr Todiwala’s range of authentic condiments – including Parsi wedding pickle and unusual game preserves.
Nadeem and Jameel Lalani have built a solid and deserved reputation as the go-to guys for the finest teas money can buy. The brothers source rare and exclusive teas from all over the world, and are excellent educators on their area of expertise. Lalani’s latest range of infusionware allows drinkers to afford the brews the appreciation they deserve. These handsome timers are over a century old, hewn from bobbins from British cotton mills. Each is unique – choose from 1, 3, or 5 minute options.
Over the last couple of years, self-titled ‘Pukka Paki’ Sumayya Jamil has made it her mission to become the voice of Pakistani cuisine in the UK. And now she’s making it her mission to ensure your supper is sufficiently spicy with her range of floral blends. Garam masalas are infused variously with jasmine, rose, or marigold.
As well as looking pretty on the plate, the petals are pretty good on the palate, and add a little something to cookery from all cuisines. The marigold blend is earthy; the jasmine sweet; and the rose heady and fragrant- all are inspired by Sumayya’s ‘monsoon memories’, and recapture the sensory stimulation she experienced during storm season.
Pop an IOU to your intended – these aren’t available til 2014, but you can give ’em a sneak peek here…
If you really love someone, or have serious cash to splash, invest in a bottle of the beguiling Vaara. Penhaligon’s complex fragrance evokes desert soil after a monsoon, featuring an unlikely culinary quartet of aromatics – saffron, coriander and carrot seeds, tonka and honey. Floaty, floral notes are brought by a bouquet of roses, magnolia, freesia and iris, whilst musk, cedar, resin and sandalwood bring your sandals firmly back down to (sun-baked) earth.
I can already see the Urban Rajah eyeing this one up lustily. If you know a similar dandy who’d find a collar stiffener handy, this one will do the job and looks every bit as good as the sartorial-minded recipient. The fantasy skyline of the subcontinent depicts brilliant feats of engineering like the Taj Mahal – and the stiffeners themselves are certain to engineer a few excellent ensembles.
The man behind the awesome, phwoarsome street food phenomenon that is ‘The Everybody Love Love Jhalmuri Express’ learned his craft from the vendors of the Indian city where cultures collide – Calcutta. When it comes to creating cracking chaat, Angus doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk; and in his fabulous film, he walks you through the foodscape of the city that captured his heart and imagination.
With its scanty dialogue and a soundtrack provided by the streets themselves, the film is a feast for every sense in every sense of the word. For his Christmas blockbuster, he’s offering an exclusive double feature, teaming the DVD with a copy of his very own Street Food Kolkata guide book and delivering the bundle lovingly hand-wrapped in classic Express style.
A subtle way to say ‘I love India’, this sterling silver pendant is shaped like the subcontinent, hand-cut and polished ‘til it gleams. The necklace comes from the designers’ ‘Dreaming the World’ collection, and other custom continents and countries are available; but really, why would you? The hand-crafting process means each piece has its own quirks and irregularities, just like the country it represents.
Oooh, interesting! These super stocking-fillers mean canny cooks can do away with dry, dusty ground spices and the hassle of grinding whole ones fresh to order. The bottles of liquid spice extracts also have a pipette; and who doesn’t love a play with a pipette? The potent elixirs infuse dishes with vibrant, true flavour without discolouring or affecting texture. All sorts are available, but tulsi, saffron, cardamom, turmeric and the comforting-sounding kesar milk masala are my must-trys.
As Asif Walli himself says; ‘what the duke?’ Eyes will widen when first laid on this little lot, and gleam with greed when the chocolate is cracked into. Super-savoury snack mix and creamy chocolate might not sound like a match made in heaven, but this is sheer manna in munchable form. If dark chocolate jingles their bells, choose from plain, toasted coconut, or lime-infused bars. If they go mad for milk, orange, cardamom and vanilla, or cinnamon-spiced bars will surely drive them completely (Christmas) crackers.
It’s not often you utter ‘subtle’ and ‘Bollywood’ in the same sentence. But when describing these hand-made mugs, the two sit happily side-by-side. The matt stoneware outers of the wheel-thrown cups are hand-etched with a traditional mendhi pattern; each as unique as the handsome henna designs that adorn hands on high days and hoildays. A ‘dragonfly blue’ hue as sumptuous as a sari glazes handles and inners, and the mugs are as sturdy as any moustachioed hero-walla.
A December door’s simply not dressed without the non-negotiable adornment of a Christmas wreath. And, as I’m spicing up tradition in every sense this season, this incredible edible is incredibly apt. The colours of the chillies and herbs it’s hewn from boast the proper Christmas palette, and, just as importantly, they’ll please palates, too. Ingredients are picked to order from Tregothnan‘s estate in Cornwall, and matching garlands and table decorations are available.
Sri Lankan curry powders are rich and roasty, making a dish taste meaty even when there have been no animals harmed in the making of it. Deema’s is named after the Sinhalese lady who created the mix from a deadly dozen different spices plus roasted rice; the masala made in small batches by her daughter Deepthi de Silva-Williams. This stuff’s funky-fresh, not the dry dust that ‘curry powder’ calls to mind. This giftpack features a duo of sachets along with a recipe card. You can wrap the jute bag up, but the phenomenal smell will still be a tantalising giveaway.
What’s the best thing about Aneesh Popat’s water ganaches? That they’re dairy-free; that they come in such creative flavours which shine so bright precisely because of the lack of dairy; or the fact that they’re so damn delicious you will inevitably eat double the amount, telling yourself it’s justified because they’re half the caloric value of other truffles?
I say it’s all three, and that you must try this trio of Indian-inspired flavours – chai, pineapple & cardamom, and rose & cinnamon. While you’re at it, bung in some bars; mukwaas and saffron & hazelnut have my vote. And hot chocolate with rose petals is a rich, dark, handsome hug in a mug – who doesn’t love one of those?
I’m not recommending Devnaa’s Gujarati vegetarian cookbook as a gift simply because yours truly copy-edited it. In fact, yours truly was damned delighted to be presented the chance to glance at a manuscript crammed full of the sort of recipes you just don’t see elsewhere; for the sort of food you’d eat if you were invited to a Guji home where the family has especially mad skillz in the kitchen. The Rawals are that family, and they’ve been kind enough to share their secrets. A pure pleasure to treasure.
If you like all that Dishoom bonkersness, you’ll love Piccadelhi. Kerry Hossain is a right crafty so and so, whose homewares and stationary celebrate the Brindian cultural collision as deliciously as ‘chips and curry sauce’. Kerry’s the type with a lot of time for typography and a deep-rooted love for both the patterns and patter of India. That unique phraseology is incorporated in designs like Piccadelhi’s ‘premium merchandisings’ teatowel and ‘I am liking this’ screen-print. One of each, thank you please.
The East India Company is an expert in cracking comestibles, especially when they’re Indian-inspired. Chai-drinkers will lap up ‘Moonlit Reflections’ loose tea with its flavours of cardamom and ginger, and feel rather festive boiling up a brew of the Christmas Tea with rose, vanilla, orange blossom and cinnamon – especially if you supply a tin of Twelve Spices biscuits, too.
If they prefer savoury, the Indian-spiced, cheese-filled crepe dentelle biscuits are a revelation. The East India’s floral Jasmine Cordial will evoke fragrant blossoms fluttering in a warm night breeze, and it doesn’t taste half bad either. Buy it for a creative cook who will drizzle it over cakes and puds, guzzle it by the glassful, and quite possibly try and bathe in the stuff, too.
When I stumbled upon this one I almost dropped my dosa in excitement. Although inedible, this embellishment is still pretty tasty. This brilliant bracelet features snacks like samosas and koftas along with jolly little jingle bells like mini versions of the ones that grace kathak dancers’ ankles. Hungry for more? There’s a matching necklace and ring, too.
Know someone who doesn’t like to be far from a filling feed? Giraffe’s Kiss’ curry and rice pendant will sit pretty around their neck and keep their mind firmly on food, as if they needed reminding.
Dry fruits and nuts are favourite festive fare around India, and this bracelet depicting those snacks drapes delicately around any wrist. There will be sour grapes if I don’t find one under the tree.
‘S’ might well stand for samosa, but it also signifies ‘simple’ and ‘stylish’. This white cotton teatowel is both those things – one of those that’s surely destined to end up displayed rather than used to dry up dishes. Should you know any samosa-snacking babyfolk, this matching little one-piece will be worn with pride…
Ok, so you can go to any Indian grocers and pick up three packs of incense sticks for a pound, but Christmas calls for something a little smarter. And Diptyque’s divine scented candles are a clever bet; slow burning and set in arresting, vibrant, patterned glass holders designed by French duo Tsé & Tsé. Indian Incense includes rose, carnation and myrrh, while Orange Chai blends citrus, quince and spice. No one would be the slightest bit ‘incensed’ to sniff one out in their stocking.
Smartphones, doodads and geegaws are all well and good, but nothing beats a good old doodle with a real pen and paper. There’s something particularly pleasing about scribing in a bejewelled book– and these handmade recycled paper journals are glorious. Each is covered in sari fabric, cushion covers, and thread, bound by a gold cord which keeps all those words of wisdom closely contained within the covers. Choose from a range of colours and designs; I personally love this duo – a green goddess, and one showing Sanskrit script along with a right royal couple riding a camel.
A tasteful print featuring a tasty crop. This 1922 original celebrates the traditional process of labouriously cutting, hand-harvesting, and hauling rice. The old gold tint applied painstakingly by hand lends warmth and depth to the black and white rendering, which will look super-fly framed. Surrender Dorothy’s stock shifts swiftly, but there’s always a good dose of Desi on offer.
These sleek slate coasters are elegantly etched with images of elephants, backed with felt, and wax-finished to make them wipe-clean. Stone-worker Hannah Smith hand-carves all her items with a mallet and chisel before painstakingly sanding, polishing and waxing each one – order a herd.
A lovely little zippered frippery that can be filled with all sorts of bits and bobs. The vintage cotton exterior is printed with a typed address along with all the needful stamps and stickers that make this purse resemble a real missive straight from the subcontinent.
Real elephants are mischievous beasties, who like nothing better than to spray you with water from a well-stocked trunk. This china cutie is rather better-behaved, prefers his liquids tasting of tea, and will deliver a stream directly into the cup of your choosing.
Who could possibly pick a single product from Devnaa’s divine collection of comestibles? This selection prevents puzzlement, and just whacks it all in. The golden goody bag houses a double-layered tiffin box of those signature chocs which blend the best of the East and West; a bag of mixed, spice-infused caramels; and a jar full of Chai Masala hot chocolate flakes that will receive a far warmer welcome than the snow variety.
Vouchers and experiences for foodie folk
Delayed gratification can be downright delicious – particularly where a future feast is concerned. Gift vouchers for all sorts of Edible Experiences are available from the company by just that name. And please recommend that the recipient spend them wisely on a subcontinental supperclub like Damn Good Curry, Rajiv’s Kitchen, or Darjeeling Express.
If they prefer a spot of fine dining, Cinnamon Culture’s vouchers are just the ticket – and the Bromley restaurant also offers masterclasses where you should send all budding chefs to earn their spice stripes.
Talking spice, Pat Chapman was one of the first to demystify the complexities of the classic curryhouse menu to the masses – and he still conducts classes from his Surrey home. Southall, meanwhile, is where Indian food fans can mooch with esteemed food writer Monisha Bharadwaj on her fantastic food walks.
If you know someone who’d like to wander the wonderful world of Bangla khana, Lovedesh’s Bangladeshi woodfired curry cooking experience is a unique opportunity to cook like the rural villagers company founder from whom Yasmin Choudhury learnt her craft – contact the lady for bespoke workshops.
And if that last little lot’s got your tummy all a-rumble, stay tuned for Part 4 of this epic Christmas adventure – where I’ll be sharing the festive recipes I rate along with some nice little nibbles to buy…
In the meantime, gorge on these seasonal scribings….
- Delightful Desi decorations
- 24 restaurants where you’ll relish the food and the festive feeling
- An alternative Christmas feast with recipes from Cafe Spice Namaste, Namaaste Kitchen, Dishoom & Cinnamon Kitchen
- Last year’s Anglo-Indian Christmas guide
- Brilliant books for cooks
- How Kerala celebrates Christmas
Main image: Dishoom